Not3s is beyond doubt one of the UK’s most charismatic and vibrant young newcomers. Effortlessly blending elements of hip-hop, dancehall and R&B – plus wider influences spanning his Hackney neighbourhood to African and Caribbean sounds – he has already surpassed 1 million single sales in a year, been shortlisted for the BBC Sound Poll and Mobo Awards, won Best Newcomer at the GRM Awards and seen his recent UK tour sell out in minutes (which featured a joyous homecoming show at London’s Koko on his birthday).
Not3s’ debut EP, ‘Take Not3s’, draws on a multicultural, melting pot of sounds and experiences, which dig deeper still than just his remarkably confident introduction, ‘Addison Lee’. Following its emergence, ‘Addison Lee’ has been almost as difficult to avoid as breathing literal air (and just as essential). It caught the attention of many of the British scene’s musical luminaries and faces of destinations such as east London’s Visions nightclub. At one point, weirdly, even famed BBC documentarian Louis Thereoux tweeted out lyrics to the track, sealing its rise beyond an underground hit.
But there’s more to Not3s than one (admittedly instant) banger. “People think I’ve only brought out ‘Addison Lee’. They think there’s just a buzz,” he explains when we meet to speak about his new EP ‘Take Not3s’. Of course, he’s also released several songs since ‘Addison Lee’. The refreshing, vibrant release of ‘Aladdin’ back in June presented Not3s as a vital young talent, one with an expansive palette of sounds. But it’s ‘Take Not3s’ – and recent singles like ‘My Lover’ – which have sent Not3s skywards. “I want people to listen to it and think: ‘Wow’. ‘Rah, he’s a problem.’ I don’t ever want to be at my pinnacle,” he says.
So how did one young artist from Hackney get to the point where he was being playlisted on 1Xtra and Capital FM? What’s his story? For Not3s, it all started with a cosmic occurrence in primary school. He’d always written bars, his mother remembers hearing him rapping along to DMX and singing to Usher as a child. However his initial break came after a headteacher, having heard him singing in music class, decided to push him toward making music a career. “He was shocked,” says Not3s of the teacher watching his performance. “From there he kept me in choir, he would do anything for me to carry on doing music.”
Over the next few years Not3s studied his craft, hiding up in his college’s studio, taking A-levels in music, getting his knowledge of the business up. Originally going under a different name, he decided on Not3s because it has three different meanings: notes as in money; notes as in music; and, as he says, notes as in “take note of me.” At this point Not3s completely separated himself from his social circle, placing value in nothing else beyond his music. “I would be in studio from 4pm until 8am, just stupid times. That was me making music, I had nobody, no friend, no nothing.”
As a kid Not3s grew up in a relatively deprived household and would sell food from Sainsbury’s on his lunch break to make money. “I’m one of them people that don’t like their mum struggling. If I can see she’s struggling and giving money on top of her struggle, it makes me feel bad,” he explains. It’s this journey that finds footing in the closing track to the EP, a reflective and pensive song called ‘Hasta La’Vista’. “I was searching for some pennies on the roads,” he sings over a bubbling afro-pop instrumental that slowly builds into light drum and bass. “But I couldn’t take it, I had to make it.”
Not3s says ‘Take Not3s’ represents “life experiences, whether that’s my own or other people.” So where the EP ends with ‘Hasta La’Vista’ it also begins with a bold assessment of where Not3s has been and where he’s going. He raps about being a missing kid, getting locked in cells, being locked in the dome like the Truman Show – an experience he defines today as finding himself. And that’s something that’s certainly happened and is evident across ‘Take Not3s’, as the record manoeuvres through a variety of subjects and sounds, switching from lightly pulsating R&B with lilts and twangs of old school house. Then there’s the features list, taking in Shakka, Tinie Tempah and Mo’Stack, three big names coming together to solidify why Not3s is such a promising proposition.
Not3s’ rapid start to 2018 marks an artist who is truly here to stay. He broke down the door with ‘Addison Lee’ and put his flag in the house, now he’s starting to bring in the furniture – the different themes, stories and motives that define who Not3s is. As he says, all that’s left to do is for the world to ‘Take Not3s’. A modern coming of age story – with millions of streams, sold-out shows, and even his first Top 20 single under his belt – 2018 will see Not3s make further strides in making this is a reality.